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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ensalada de Nopales

Say whaaaaat???
These couldn't have happened at a better time.  As I was planning a Baja Fish Burrito evening, I spotted nopales in the "exotic" section of my grocery store.  The dormant Baja Abuelita inside of me woke up and ripped out of my ribcage with such fierceness she took control of my nimble fingers and guided me through the process...
Usually, in France, the "exotic" section is Vietnamese, North African, or Antillais.  I usually find basics but then go to specialty stores for actual Chinese or Indian products.  Mexican food is destined to the boxed fajita items and jarred guacamole in the dry section.  Never in my life have I seen Nopales on this side of the Atlantic (which only means I've never seen them, but doesn't mean they're not here, somewhere).
As you may have imagined if you know me by now, I squealed with joy, right in the middle of other grocery shoppers.  It just naturally came out of me.  They were in a small basked next to the okra, and there were probably only 15 pads, spines already removed.  They didn't look the freshest (brown spots and floppiness), and I probably wouldn't have bought them looking like this in the US, but here,  this was the glowing treasure that came all this way just to be prepared by me.  It was a sign with big neon lights and blinking messages of love and tenderness.  It couldn't be any other way.
With all this positive energy happening around me, shoppers started to gather round as I selected about 1 lb of nopales.  
"What is that?"
"Is it edible?"
"How on Earth does one prepare this?"
"Can you describe the taste/texture?"
Everyone was intrigued.  Here in France, they eat the prickly pear fruit (Figue de Barbarie) but nobody would have ever thought to eat the Mickey Mouse Ears (Oreilles de Mickey) as they are called here.  The glory was all mine as I explained how, on top of being delicious, they are very nutritious and provide many health benefits.
So now, off I went for the preparation phase.  I've eaten nopales millions of times, but I'd never prepared or cooked them myself before.  There was always some woman higher up in the hierarchy who had the pleasure of preparing them long before I started to cook for myself.  I looked up boiling times on the internet and let the Baja Abuelita guide me for the rest.
It came from the heart, and it was perfect.

Ensalada de Nopales
Serves 3-4 as a small side salad

500g (approx1lb) whole nopales
To boil:
1/2 onion
2 chile de arboles
2 cloves garlic, peeled
small bunch cilantro (with stems)
pinch salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
lots of freshly ground pepper
To toss:
1 Tbsp minced jalapeno chile (optional)
1 small shallot or 1/4 red onion, minced
handful sliced cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, grated
juice from 1/2 lime
pinch fleur de sel
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp freshly chopped cilantro leaves
crumbled queso fresco or feta for garnish (optional)
1.  Prepare the nopales by scraping the spines and as much brown off with a knife.  Cut the stem part off.  Rinse well, then slice them into green bean sized pieces.
2.  Place them in some water with the "to boil" ingredients.  Bring to a boil and simmer for about 10 minutes.  This is to remove the "slime".  They can be eaten raw, but Abuelita said to cook them for my first time.  I still ate a piece raw and it wasn't bad.  I like the texture.
3.  Drain them, remove the boiled onion, garlic, and cilantro, and rinse.  Let cool while you do your other Baja kitchen activities, such as make guacamole, cascabel salsa, mango corn salsa, marinate the fish, make the white sauce, make black beans, rice, etc.  OooOo.
4.  Toss the nopales with the salad ingredients and refrigerate until ready to eat.  This can be a completely vegan salad without the queso fresco.. obviously.

Invite your Baja Abuelita to join you at the table.
This is all thanks to her, by the way..

I had this alongside some Fish Burritos last night.

And then made myself an egg & nopales breakfast burrito this morning.
Best. Breakfast. Of. My. Entire. 33. Years.

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